Saturday, November 28, 2015

A NEW Nutcracker - Reimagined, Reinvented and Incredibly Special

George Balanchine's
Artistic Director: Peter Boal
Design: Ian Falconer
November 27 - December 28th


noun 1.the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice: a story that has come down to us by popular tradition.

When Artistic Director Peter Boal announced last year that the ballet would be retiring the Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker that had run 31 years and had become a Christmas tradition in many northwest households, it was met with mixed reaction. Some excited for change, some sad to see the special production go, and some angry to a level that was surprisingly emotional.  Either way it caused a ruckus and starting much speculation as to what was to come.  The critics: How can it be NEW if other ballets use this version? We will no longer have something special to PNB. Why are we trying to COPY the NYC Ballet? This version is BORING. 

As last night's premier approached, the marketing began. Photos, commercials, news articles. The naysayers still snarky but with that inquisitive look, like someone that wants details but doesn't want to admit they want details.  Director Peter Boal doing an interview jokingly saying if the audiences didn't love it he had a one way ticket to Kansas. I cannot imagine how stressful the weeks leading up to the premier were for him. The risk that he took was ENORMOUS. T.S. Eliot said: "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." If we don't take risks we don't create opportunities to grow. As a born and raised Seattle native, I have seen this city grow and evolve over the last 40+ years. Seattle has a handful of tourist and artistic destinations and as the city progresses, so must these attractions. This was what Pacific Northwest Ballet needed to be part of Seattle's unique and eclectic artistic skyline.

The week before I found myself nervous and restless in regards to the premier. I have zero to do with the production but was still apprehensively anticipating the big reveal like I was someone that was deeply involved emotionally. I see why there were so many visceral reactions. The Nutcracker connects with so many of us. All I could think about while preparing and serving Thanksgiving dinner for my daughter and several other of the Professional Division dancers is, I must pass them my motherly sustenance and energy to make the next night, opening night, perfect.

The lobby was bustling with wonder and excitement. I strolled through the length of the 1st and 2nd floors with my ears open to what the patrons were discussing - these were my favorite quotes of the evening:
"So IS there a Peacock?" 
"I love that this ballet is about sweets and there is less racial undertones" (I laughed and gave her a high five as I walked past)
"Mom is there still a princess?" 
"Does the tree still grow?"
"I wonder if Olivia the Pig will make an appearance?"
"Wait is that Drum from Steel Magnolias!?" (Tom Skerritt)
I had picked the perfect seat. Butterflies in my stomach and I wasn't even dancing or part of the crew. Everyone in that audience was witnessing what people 31 years before witnessed. The start of a tradition. History and the beginning of a magical production.
The prologue began and as the gorgeous PNB Orchestra played the familiar Tchaikovsky intro - we were introduced to an opening film, that took us from the snowflakes, down traveling through the snow capped trees and hillside, through the quiet neighborhood of homes, and to the doorway of the Stahlbaum family. It was done as if we were all flying through and traveling in an open aired bi plane. Reminiscent of something you would see at IMAX but with the animation of Polar Express.
It ends with the children, Clara and Fritz - sleeping at the doorway of the great hall, and then becomes the exact picture on stage live.  The walls lined with photos and decor fit for an animated Vogue shot, and transparently showing us what awaited them on the other side.  It was a new and exciting way to prepare you for what was to come.
The party scene was stunning. The set of the Stahlbaum home was epic. SO many details. A true visual journey. I found myself trying to absorb everything. The glowing realistic fire in the fireplace. 

The architecture of the room from the windows to the floors. The careful placement of the red and white stripes - from the stockings, to the chair covers, of course small repetitious reminders of the MAIN stripes which were Clara's whimsically sweet striped dress and her Uncle Drosselmeier's cloak lining. Was a wonderful ribbon of playful consistency.
ALL of the costumes in this scene were lush and exquisite, with patterns and fabrics that seemed to jump off the stage. The costume department and designer Ian Falconer, should be given a standing ovation of their own. It was awe inspiring.  The growing tree, the HUGE adorable mice and the cute but stoic soldiers, all made for an entertaining portion with lots of audience giggles.  The most notably being the Mouse King who had MULTIPLE heads and crowns. It was unexpectedly awesome and I found myself amazed at the wondrous creation of it.

The most visually magnificent scene of the entire ballet was the Snow scene. Ushered in by Princess Clara on her gliding bed, and her little prince (who was disguised as the Nutcracker and had an EPIC costume change! Hint: Its JUST like the movie and the audience erupted with cheers) the scene change became the most breathtaking and impressive forest I had ever seen. 

The incredible depth of the trees and the snow. THE SNOW. Balanchine's choreography for the impressive Snowflake dancers is elaborate, arduous and electric. I only know this as a ballet-familiar person because the company dancers that performed looked light as air and effortless as they danced in a moderate blizzard of snow. Adorning the entire scene was a spectacular glass Winter Star created by Dale Chihuly, adding an extravagant level of beauty to an already dazzling Snow Scene.
Act 2 was the Land of the Sweets. The Angels were perfect. Gliding over the stage as if on wheels, they heralded in the newly-promoted Sugar Plum Fairy, danced by the beautiful Liz Murphy (shown in the top photo). The entire Land of the Sweets was overwhelmingly fun, with gigantic tall tables of cakes and confections, lace and candy canes framing the entire thing into a perfect picture of edible beauty. 
Hot Chocolate dancers were spicy and quick and their costumes were intricate and flashy, with gorgeous head pieces that looked like pieces of actual chocolate. The controversial Coffee. Many people sad with the departure of their beloved Peacock, so I heard whispers and wonders when this music began. Corps member Elle Macy stunned with the flexibility and allure to make this slinky and contortion-like choreography come to life. Boal and Falconer gave their nod to the Peacock with a respectful and beautiful costume that donned long ornate peacock feathers. Tea was fun and enticed laughter from the crowd. Matt Renko as the man in the box - seemed to fly as he jumped with an agility I hadn't seen from him before. The three dancers together produced smiles across every seat that I could see.
Soloist Ben Griffiths was flawless as lead Candy Cane. Lots of WOWs and hollers from the audience, as its arguably the most iconic of all of the Nutcracker music.  Marzipan was lead splendidly by Soloist Leta Biasucci. The tutus were like beautiful paper cut lace snowflakes, intricate and delicate. 
They say big hair, a big dress and flawless lashes will steal the show, and well they were right. Soloist Josh Grant had the audience in tears with his grandiose and comical portrayal of the infamous Mother Ginger, the woman with all of her kids in her skirt. Her personality was bigger than her skirt as she delighted in her dancing children and her own reflection. Closing out the sweets was the enchanting Dew Drop fairy danced by Principal Laura Tisserand, and supported by her garden of Dancing Flowers. The costumes were verdant and flower-like with beautiful petals that seemed to move perfectly as they danced. 

The finale came to a close with the Sugar Plum and her Cavalier - danced by the naturally born Prince, Jerome Tisserand, and then concluded with the entire Land of Sweets gathering to bid a farewell to Clara and her Prince, and as they walked off the stage, many of us thought that was it. UNTIL. There was a surprise. Wait for it. A Sleigh. With reindeer. That FLEW. You could not see any wires or tracks from the audience. Visually, they were flying home on a reindeer guided sleigh. No big deal, only it was a big deal. It was an EPIC ending to a gorgeous feast of splendor that exceeded my already high expectations. The audience roared, standing ovation for the first night of a brilliant new tradition. 

For those that said this version was not going to be "special" or "unique" or said it would be a "copy" or "boring", I assure you it is truly nowhere near boring or a copy.  I am pleased to inform you that Pacific Northwest Ballets new Nutcracker is both Special in Unique, beyond what you imagined it would be.  
Tickets are going quickly. Get them while you can and go experience the magic and be part of this extraordinary new tradition. Congrats to everyone involved in making a new piece of history.  

*All Photos copyright of Angela Sterling Photography*

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